Southbank Tower’s cultural programme creates unique opportunities for residents to live amongst world renowned designers and architects, as well as providing unique experiences through its partnership with The Old Vic.
Celebrating culture, community and our world-renowned neighbour
In 2020, The Old Vic and Southbank Tower announced a new, unique partnership which brought Southbank Tower’s best loved neighbour even closer to our residents’ homes. Together the collaboration provides residents with intimate access to The Old Vic’s creative talents, through bespoke exclusive events onsite at The Tower, alongside free priority booking for all residents, which includes the online programme developed as a response to current pandemic. In return Southbank Tower is able to support our cultural gem, which is at the heart of its community and support its mission to be a ‘ surprising,unpredictable, ground-breaking, rule-breaking, independent beacon of accessible, uplifting and unintimidating art.’
We spoke with Olivia Highland, Co-Director of Development at The Old Vic to find out more.
Why is forging a partnership with Southbank Tower so important to The Old Vic?
As a theatre, The Old Vic operates very uniquely compared to many of its peers. Typically, there are two types of theatre: government subsidised theatres, such as the National Theatre, the Almeida, the Donmar and the Young Vic who do both outreach and artistic work; and commercial theatre, which are supported by private investors, aiming to make a profit from long running, high profile shows. The Old Vic sits in between, we do not have private investors, and certainly do not turn a profit each year, but neither do we receive any regular government subsidy. Yet, we have a strong social mission and, alongside our artistic work, pride ourselves on working with a wide range of people in the community through an array of education, employability, community and talent development projects, all which are delivered at no cost to the public purse. Typically (pre-COVID-19), our annual £15m turnover is reached through an income split of two thirds from tickets sales and the remaining balance reached by fundraising. This means we start the year, every year, with an annual planned deficit of £4m and hope to break even. We work hard to cover this gap through support from individual donors, trusts and foundations and business supporters like Southbank Tower. This income helps us to achieve the artistic and social mission work that we do.
In short, supporters and audiences are the lifeblood of our theatre. We cannot do what we do without them; their support is transformational in making projects and productions happen.
What can residents expect from the bespoke events, when they are safe to resume in The Tower?
For all our supporters, because their engagement is so valuable, we want to welcome them into The Old Vic family. We want it to feel like a collaborative shared endeavour, a special and unique experience just for Southbank Tower residents. A chance to take them behind the scenes and gain a unique insight into how a production goes from page to stage. Hearing from creatives in the artistic process or a sneak peek of some unique content.
How important is the local community to the work that you do?
Hugely. The Old Vic geographically sits in an interesting space. Technically in the borough of Lambeth but a stone’s throw from Southwark. We do a lot of work in both communities and across the whole of London. A strong social conscious is part of The Old Vic’s DNA. We have adapted over the years to survive and thrive and ensure that we can open our doors to one and all.
Victorian reformist, Lilian Baylis, who ran the theatre at the turn of the century, was a champion in bringing The Old Vic to the people and played a key role in ensuring that The Old Vic was one of the first theatres to show the complete works of Shakespeare (after The Globe) at a price that all Londoners could afford. This ethos has permeated The Old Vic ever since. We want to continue to make entertainment history and draw from, and be inspired by, the surrounding community. We do this by working with 10,000 people through our outreach work and schools across London each and every year. We know that The Old Vic and theatre can be a unique force for good in society and we work hard to target our work to schools or communities with little or no arts provision.
We are proud to be the local Londoner’s theatre, offering £1.23m worth of tickets for free or heavily discounted every year to those who would not be able to access such cultural experiences otherwise. Serving our community is front and centre of The Old Vic’s mission.
Unfortunately, the current Covid-19 crisis has closed the theatre, how has this impacted how you work, create, and innovate?
It is fair to say that the impact to The Old Vic, and to the theatre sector as a whole, has been devastating. When we closed our doors on 20 March, we had two weeks remaining of our sold-out show of Endgame, starring Alan Cumming and Daniel Radcliffe. And three weeks to go to a sell-out, seven week run of 4000 Miles, starring Eileen Atkins and Timothée Chalamet.
We essentially lost all of our income overnight. Heart-breaking and financially devasting. We undertook certain measures to preserve the future of theatre by furloughing 70% of staff and introducing a voluntary 20% reduction of salary and hours for all staff.
We also lobbied with other leading arts organisations for financial support over the last few months. We were delighted when the Government announced the extension of the job retention scheme. This is a critical lifeline for the theatre, and brilliant to have been extended. We, of course, also welcome the announcement of the government support package for the arts. Having now applied, we eagerly await news of outcome of the decision making process.
However, without this clarity and confirmation of a fixed opening date it remains a challenging position for us as month on month we are spending hard earned reserves to stay afloat. Our independent status means where other organisations are guaranteed some regular income from an Arts Council grant, we are not and it is challenging. This has boosted our resourceful and entrepreneurial spirit and we are actively fundraising to support our survival. We have experienced a wonderful outpouring of support from donors and partners and are grateful to those that have gifted additional emergency donations and committed to renewing corporate and personal memberships early.
In terms of creativity in order to survive and thrive we know we need to adapt and innovate in order to stay connected with our audiences. Arts and culture, and particularly theatre, has a critical role to play to give a sense of connection in and at time when we are isolated.
What does the future hold?
We welcome news that theatres can open with social distancing; it shows progression for the theatre industry. However, the reality is that with social distancing at 2m or 1m, it brings us to around 30 to 35% capacity. Unfortunately, this is simply not viable. In ordinary times, to break even we need average capacity of 70% across a year. So, for now, we would need to wait for a further update from the government that we have reached the final stage of the roadmap, or have sufficient funding, to open fully, of course with necessary health and safety measures in place.
However, until this time comes, we have worked hard to create brand new strands of artistic output. We have a free programme of digital content, Your Old Vic, which makes available some of The Old Vic’s back catalogue, the creation of new theatrical experiences, podcasts with leading creatives and an Education Hub which offers an array of free educational resources for students and teachers. We have also developed employability resources for young people entering the job market at this difficult time, and free theatre craft techniques for emerging artists who will be hugely challenged by the crisis.
The response has been brilliant. A Monster Calls, our first streamed archive production, was viewed by over 100,000 people worldwide. The silver lining for us is that we are reaching people that we would never have reached without this situation. It shows an appetite and a sense of a need for cultural engagement which is heartening.
Old Vic: In Camera is another brand new artistic experiment created purely to support and help towards sustaining the theatre. To launch this series, we did a run of socially distanced performances of Lungs, starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith, live streamed from The Old Vic, against the backdrop of the empty auditorium. With tickets priced as they would normally be across the house, we encouraged customers to purchase the ticket price you would normally do so for a live performance. This supports The Old Vic financially and enables theatre lovers to enjoy a new and unique experience. We sold nearly 12,000 tickets across 69 countries, with 60% of bookers having never experienced anything at The Old Vic before.
The next in series is Three Kings. A scratch performance of a brand-new play by Stephen Beresford written in lockdown for and starring Andrew Scott. The response across social media and the box office has been brilliant. We are thrilled.
Of course, Southbank Tower residents will continue to get priority booking for these performances as they do for live performances.
All our activity really comes down to the fact that, despite the challenges specifically for The Old Vic as a result of this crisis, we have remained committed to being a leading theatrical powerhouse with strong social mission. Those 10,000 people who we would normally serve each year, will be hardest hit by the crisis. It is our duty to serve them, to adapt our outreach in a digital format and host for free on our Education Hub. The reach for programmes through digital formats is hugely increased at this time and it has inspired us for the future.
With theatres embattled in the current crisis, what can the local community and society as a whole do to ensure that live theatre can continue to delight, educate, and entertain audiences for generations when the pandemic has passed?
Keep believing in us and supporting when you can. The whole cultural sector is going through huge challenges right now, but the determination and willingness to survive are palpable. We need all those who enjoy what we do to stand by us and support us, whether that’s by buying a ticket to a virtual live stream or enjoying some of the free content through our Your Old Vic programme.
We want to be there for you, and we think society needs art and culture more than ever. We are fighting very hard to be there for everyone on the other side.
To find out more about The Old Vic's programme or how to support the theatre please visit theoldvictheatre.com
Southbank Tower and The Old Vic have developed a unique partnership which provides residents with free priority booking and the creation of bespoke and unique events within the shared residential amenity spaces in the Tower. The partnership forms part of our cultural offering to develop luxury riverside London homes for the cultured and curious. The Old Vic and Southbank Tower are working to deliver the current virtual programme to residents and look forward to resuming the in-house programme when it is safe to do so.